In the Unlikely Event is actually the first book I have ever read by Judy Blume. I know her books are beloved by many and that some have been reading her work for decades. For whatever reason, I just never picked up anything by her, nor was I ever assigned to read it in school. But I decided to pick up her latest novel, which focuses on a city in New Jersey in a time of crisis and fear, and even made it into the final round for a Goodreads Choice Award in the Best Historical Fiction category.
The Situation: Miri Ammerman is a typical 15 year-old girl in Elizabeth, New Jersey, living with her single mother Rusty, her grandmother Irene, and her uncle Henry. She spends her days attending school, and spends much of her free time with her best friend Natalie. As an only child, Miri often allows herself to fantasize about her mother and Natalie's father being together, therefore making her and Natalie real sisters. Miri has nothing to complain about as her mother, grandmother, and uncle have provided everything she needs, except maybe the truth about her father. Everyone else in Elizabeth is also attempting to live their lives, such as Henry's fianceé Leah, a schoolteacher; Mason, an orphan who danced one dance with Miri at a party and now can't stop thinking about her; Christina, the girlfriend of Mason's older brother and an office assistant at the dental practice run by Natalie's father; and many other residents of Elizabeth who will become forever changed by the events that begin in the winter of 1951.
The Problem: On Sunday, December 16, 1951, a plane crash landed into the bank of the Elizabeth River. It would be the first of three planes to crash in the city within the span of two months, leading to the temporary closure of the Newark Airport. The events would not only lead to a natural fear of flying for many of the residents of Elizabeth, but it would also cause widespread speculation about the general safety of Newark Airport, conspiracy theories regarding the government and aliens, and stress and anxiety for those who never intended to fly as they wonder if their home or office could be the next one that a plane lands on. Despite most every one's desire to move on with life after the tragic events, it is clear that everything has changed and nothing will be the same, seemingly for the worse. Lives have already been lost, but marriages will also end, friendships will become fractured and never quite heal, and people like Miri will begin to always wonder when the next disaster will come.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a historical fiction novel containing events that did happen in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1951-1952. Three airplanes did crash in the town, leading many to dub the town "Plane Crash City." Blume takes these events and uses them as the backdrop for the stories involving Miri and her friends, her family, and many others. While the story does mostly follow Miri, the perspective changes. It is always a story told by a third person narrator, but sometimes the action follows Miri, and sometimes it's Rusty, or Henry, or Daisy, or Corinne, or Christina, or Mason...you get the idea. There are many different voices throughout this book, filling in some of the blanks that Miri wouldn't know, but not all of them. It is a look into how different people respond to a tragedy, and also the fear that can come out of it. Some move forward, some wallow in despair, and still others attempt to function while not really knowing what to do, somehow being pulled in both directions at once. And it doesn't seem that anyone knows how they'll react until it actually happens.
My Verdict: For about the first 200 pages or so, I was somewhat confused. All of the different voices and perspectives got to me and made the story hard to follow. I kept forgetting who was who, who was who's sister, or coworker, or aunt, or teacher, or girlfriend, or best friend, etc. It would be one thing if the voices only switched between two or three, even four people. But there were many more than that, and some would only be the focus once, making them incredibly easy to forget unless they featured prominently in someone elses story. But once I was able to push past that, I found this to be an interesting story, and even after about two-thirds of the way through, I still could not imagine where Blume was going with it. There was only one part where the story felt rushed, but it could also have been Blume's attempt to show how quickly things can change.
Favorite Moment: When Miri is told she can't publish an article she has written for the school newspaper, so she makes copies on her own and hands it out anyway.
Favorite Character: I would pick either Miri or her uncle, Henry. Miri wasn't too angsty, which worked well since she is the one the reader has to follow for most of the book. And Uncle Henry was one of the few adults who was willing to be straight with Miri and tell her the truth.
Recommended Reading: I recommend Life After Life or A God in Ruins. Both are by Kate Atkinson, and both focus on the same English family, in and around World War II.